January, 2015

Jan 15

The Boy with The Dark Magician Inside

When I was about, what, 11, we were assigned to pick something from a short story to read out loud to class–any short story. I picked this Edgar Allan Poe prose poem, and I read it dramatically…and, being well familiar with the piece, I sank into the state of mind, the mood, the atmosphere it evokes, and lowered the pitch of my voice, deliberately made it resonate–I was always a showman–and read the story out. The class got very quiet. Girls near me got big eyed and their faces were marked with ill disguised revulsion. I was delighted with that, of course.

When I got to the final lines I read them louder, and more resonantly, even rolling Rs, very melodramatic. I felt as if I was channeling something powerful. To me, I had physically grown to about seven feet high, and was a dark man with large black eyes and the power over life and death.

I was, in my mind, for about two seconds, a true sorcerer, as I intoned: “…For the tones in the voice of the shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and, varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable fell duskly upon our ears in the well-remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends…. ”

Of course, a video of the event would have shown a weedy little kid reading aloud in his weedy little voice, maybe shifting his weight from foot to foot as he stood awkwardly at his desk–a somewhat ridiculous figure…But not to ME. In my mind I was that magician invoking the return of the dead–a necromancer at work.

And indeed, when I finished the kids were impressed–with what a weirdo I was–and the teacher seemed a little stunned. “Ah…great, very good job. Have a seat now.”

Here’s a link to Poe’s excellent prose poem: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/shadow.html

Jan 15

Abortion? The Progressive in Me Squirms…and Kicks

Read All About It: John Shirley Treads on Line of Political Correctness And perhaps Blunders Across It…

I, the usually lock-step progressive, hereby risk offending my progressive peers: I assert that I do not necessarily support all abortions. I *strongly* support the right to *first* trimester abortions. But after that, it seems to me, a case by case examination of the issues may be necessary.

Yes, even my wife may be annoyed at me for this: I’m not comfortable with every last abortion which takes place after the first trimester. I am not certain some should be permitted. (This has been my view for at least 20 years.) The ideal abortion would happen when there is naught but a mere fertilized egg, a zygote. But even after that, a less than ideal abortion could reasonably take place, in my view, as it appears, from what I’ve read, that while there is some brain development in the first trimester there is as yet an incomplete nervous system, and pain transmission would seem non-existent or minimal.

However, if the brain and nervous system necessary for transmitting pain is significantly developed in the fetus, as in the second trimester, an abortion seems cruel to the fetal organism; the fetus at that point is capable of suffering during the abortion. Even then, if the child is badly deformed in a way that makes its life unfeasible, then that’s a reason, perhaps, to abort–if it’s late term it should be anesthetized first, within the womb, before abortion…After the first trimester, we can also ask, does the birth in some way risk the mother’s life? Then, if caesarian is not an option, let the fetus be aborted. Was the pregnancy the product of a rape? Then if she wishes, let it be aborted if she feels really strongly about it, though I’d prefer it were carried to term and adopted out.

In sum, I always felt medically safe abortions were quite acceptable in the first trimester, without interference from anyone; after that, in my view, it becomes a more complex issue–is the fetal brain developed, can the fetus suffer during the abortion? Neither a micro fetus nor a fertilized egg is a being equipped to suffer.

Putative souls are not part of my reasoning on this issue. If pressed, I assert that *if* souls exist and if the fetus or zygote *has* a soul, then, being a spiritual entity, said soul will go safely back whence it came and presumably God will reassign it. Souls, to me, are not the issue as souls are not proven to exist; brains, with their concomitant capability of extreme suffering, are known to exist–even if not everyone puts theirs to much use. One thing we can all do, once we’ve been born, is suffer…and we suffer quite enough.

Jan 15

Listening to World War 2 In a Very Large and Beautiful Room

While I have heard orchestras at ballets and at operas a number of times, with great pleasure, I had never been to the symphony per se till Friday. I saw that there was a double bill of Gershwin “opening” with a delightful concerto of 1930 era urban music, and SHOSTAKOVICH whom I’ve always been drawn to, as the “headline” composer, with his Symphony No. 8 Op. 65–so we had to go. This was the Oakland symphony (a town thirty percent African American but the only black person I could see on stage was the conductor– to be fair, trained and talented orchestral musicians aren’t a dime a dozen, they’re relatively hard to find) and they did a sublime job in a sublime venue: the Paramount Theater, a beautiful art deco theater from 1930.

The Gershwin piece we heard, “opening”, was his Concerto in F. Listening to it I felt wasn’t just a musical poet of the teeming, clamorous city, he was witty about it, somehow, even teasing at times: you can see the people strutting about in your mind’s eye; or standing late at night under a streetlamp, deciding if they want to go home; energized and melancholic and rueful by turns, perhaps even flirtatiously tipsy.

The conductor explained that the Gershwin was partly chosen to soften the blow, so to speak, of the Shostakovich number, the symphony being a bit grim for some people. It was composed in 1943 and is largely about battles (and civilian suffering) in WW2 as the Nazis attempt to overrun Russia and the Soviet people pay a terrible price to defeat them. The conductor said that it tacitly reflected the terrible choice–let the Nazis conquer them and be stuck with Hitler or defeat them and be stuck with Stalin! The politboro didn’t approve of the symphony because it was not “triumphal” enough–it is, purely in music, about the horror of war, about human struggle, and then about life going on, not about the Triumph of the USSR.

The setting, the orchestra, the music–it was splendor. Micky Shirley and i enjoyed it enormously. It was a reminder of the better part of civilization, the way the event was carried out, and I was chagrined to see that 75% of people in the audience (the concert was nearly sold out) were quite elderly. It made me wonder, “Dying art form?” But then did I go to the symphony when I was young? No. Sometimes the ballet, but never a symphony, though I did listen to Stravinski and some others… By the way the last concert of any kind I went to before the symphony was Le Butcherettes and the Melvins. Quite a contrast–and so it should be. Every art form has its own appropriate (or appropriately inappropriate) response.

The Shostakovich symphony (another orchestra) on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDuB8gRbDI0

Jan 15

The Internet Left…as opposed to The Actual Left

There’s such a thing as “the Internet Left”. This isn’t the real left’s use of the internet, which is a good thing–eg, Mother Jones online, The Nation online, MoveOn.org programs–no, it isn’t that.

The Internet Left (and yes there’s an Internet Right too, even larger), is all about making decisions about America via memes; it’s about getting stoned and watching youtube videos suggesting that “Fascism Has Already Come and You Are Its Slave, Fool!” It’s about assuming that you’re so important to the world that the NSA is breathlessly reading your email. It’s about 9/11 Truthers and loopy notions that the USA is about to invade China. It’s kneejerk reactions, judgements made without real research. It’s assuming that everything said about the Obama administration’s prosecution of people who were doing illegal things with state secrets is true; it’s assuming that because a few smug internet pundits say that the President is against a free and open internet that he really *is* against it (whereas he keeps saying over and over again he supports net neutrality, and free and open internet); that the President took us into “a war” when we had a minor supporting role in the overthrow of Khadaffi in Libya…

They twitch and decide that every last politician anywhere is a puppet of Wall Street; that voting is giving into the corporatocracy and not voting is somehow a meaningful protest. That there was a nationwide conspiracy to undermine Occupy Wall Street (it did a fine job of undermining itself). That terrorism isn’t real, that al Qaeda doesn’t exist because someone in a video somewhere quoted one line from one CIA report saying that there’s no one center to al Qaeda…

The Internet Left is about deciding, without really deciding, that if an idea is repeated enough online with clever pictorial imagery then it’s true. And this superficiality makes these people the tools of the right; it often puts them in flaky enough territory that they flake off into supporting Rand Paul and other libertarians, without acknowledging that libertarians are fine with deregulating industry and consequently destroying the environment.

The only solution is –read deeply, and make up your mind only when you get all the facts, not cherrypicked facts. And do not assume that one guy having a PhD means that when he says 9/11 was an inside demolition job, why, It Must Be True. Do not assume that terrorism is a boogeyman made up by the establishment to keep us in war–because if you’re wrong, we’re going to lose an entire city. And for God’s Sake, or Goddess’s Sake, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Sake, don’t decline to vote because someone told you it doesn’t make a difference.

For a good many people, the Internet Left is about laziness. It’s much easier to let your opinion be formed by snarky internet-comment sophistry than to do the footwork and get out there and vote. It’s easier to stay at home and yawn and and practice sneering.

Jan 15

His Final Reward

As his soul descended toward the shining plane where he was to receive his 72 virgins and the other rewards of heaven in service to Jihad, Amedy had to admit to himself that he’d had some doubts. But the imam had assured him that such doubts were normal and what mattered was his actions. He had killed for the holy cause and had been killed by the French special forces, and now he had no doubts at all–for here was the shining place, and beautiful young women, row upon row, coming toward him. They were appareled in gauze, and their lips were parted and desire shown in their eyes. “Thank God you are here!” one of them cried. “We have waited what seems an eternity to feed!” And so saying she opened her mouth wide, and her filed teeth gleamed in the growing firelight and she was the first to tear into his flesh; the pain and blood seemed quite organic and real and the others were soon upon him. It seemed to go on for an eternity…and the flames laughed at him…

Jan 15

Sunlight’s Ghost

Just now letting the dogs back in, almost eleven thirty, I went a few steps out on the back porch (in my underwear, I confess) to see the full moon’s light. I put my hand out, and got moonlight on my hand. It is a never ending source of wonder to me how the light from the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light–or rather, it has sifted sunlight, altered it, and sent it on its way. Besides having a different quality of shine, this pallid sheen is changed by its momentary visit to the surface of the moon. This silvery-white light on my hand has literally *been upon the surface of the moon* only moments ago. It looks like the sunlight died on the lifeless gray surface and this moonlight is its ghost… Of course sunlight is at least as marvelous, has been generated by an explosive and gigantically potent fusion process within the star at the center of our solar system, but there’s something mysterious about moonlight.

I wonder how much the light of the moon is affected by light from the Earth–is it a mix of light rebounding from the sun and from the Earth as well? Is there a faint touch of the light from our cities, reflected back here on my hand? Does our own light reach the moon and come back to us, altered by the bleakness of that stark, lifeless face?

You see the effect it has on me? My writing, at least in this short piece, has acquired bleary, pompous echoes of 19th century romance poets! My writing style, in this moment, is affected by the moonlight–another reflection, another alteration from the mysterious moon.

And the moon has a face carved upon it–the Man in the Moon–which some of us seem to see quite easily. I see it, clearly. Its features are proportional, one to the next, and detailed, and human; a face that just happens to be an average visage of one of the dominant species on the planet it circles.

I suppose I should look away from it, and go to bed.

Jan 15

How the Hell does it Happen?

How does a novel become a best seller? It seems to me there are three basic ways. At times they may overlap or intersect, while at other times one of them is the prime mover. Assuming the book is effectively written–for a relatively wide audience, or at least a receptive audience–its potential readership must first be made aware of it. Unless you’re already a best seller, I happen to think that bookstore signings are mostly useless. A more realistic hope for genuinely productive exposure is *hotly enthusiastic* reviews in high places–major print publications, like New York Times Book Review, or the online equivalent; even better, positive reviews on, say, National Public Radio or on television, or online sites with *very* high traffic by book buyers. A corollary is author interviews on television or radio, which can happen before the book is hot *only if* there is something unusual and entertaining or madly timely about its concept–likely pointed out to the venue by effective and connected publicists.

Second factor: widespread and expensive advertising based on the reviews or the hotness of the subject matter. This requires an improbable and expensive outlay by the publisher. The publisher may pay for ads–and they have to be in the right places–if the novel got giddy and well placed reviews or if the publisher had to bid for a novel because it got hot even before publication (usually requiring a really damned good, strategically placed literary agent). In for a hundred thousand, in for three hundred thousand.

Third, word of mouth, readers simply telling other readers, online or in person, about a novel that flashed past their defenses and got them worked up enough that they rapturously recommend it . . .Word of mouth is like lightning striking (John Brunner said in an interview, “Lightning never struck for me”) and persistent reader chatter can occasionally make an obscure book into a roaring success. It has even happened with some ebooks. Word of mouth that launches a best seller, or turns a fairly effective seller into a top seller, is almost invariably based on an *unusually high* level of enthusiasm–the readers truly enjoyed the *hell* out of that book. But on some occasions extensive word of mouth is primed by timing, by the book’s relevance to current trends, eg, when Zombie Apocalypse fiction was first getting hot; it can be stoked, too, by a subject simmering in the national collective mind, perhaps the tragedies associated with Hurricane Katrina. If you have a *good* Hurricane Katrina novel at the right moment to catch the wave…you can surf that wave. The writer of course has to be sharp, or a good storyteller–and the material has to seem reasonably fresh even if it’s part of a sub-genre.

Of course there are all sorts of ponderable and imponderable factors–editorial acumen and book-selling canniness, intelligent marketing personnel, book cover imagery, sexual trends in the reading public.

A publishing phenomenon that surprised a good many people was the success of Fifty Shades of Grey… but certainly word of mouth, social lightning striking, was instrumental in its emergence.

And a word of mouth that reaches that sort of “lightning striking” level usually arises with startling mysteriousness…

Jan 15

Bratty Kids. Sarah Palins kids? Mostly the Brat I’m thinking of is …Me.

“Photos of Sarah Palin’s son standing on dog stir debate whether it was animal abuse” say the captions. Right, he shouldn’t have stood on the dog and if she really encouraged him she shouldn’t have but I am now going to publicly confess that I did this SAME THING when I was about that age and the reason I remember it is because my Mom got really *mad* at me. I didn’t hurt the dog–a big dog which looked rather like that one but a little bigger.

Also when I was a little bitty kid and I got hold of some matches…yes I was playing with matches…I put some to a few of the kitty cat’s whiskers and melted them back a little. I didn’t think it was hurting the cat really as I recall and…I was WRONG, of course, it does harm the cat, they need those whiskers. Why do I remember? Because my older sister Bonnie got really *mad* at me. Boy she gave me a big lecture. She said “those are part of the cat’s sensory equipment. How would you like it if I set your nose or your ears on fire?!”

I was pretty bratty. I remember a fourth grade report card from school with a note that said, “John is very intelligent and would do much better in school if he would leave the girls alone and concentrate on his work.”

I liked to melt toys too and turn them into monsters using tweezers on softened plastic. Now I’m totally pushed around by pets and am practically their submissive slave.

But I might still melt some plastic toys.